April 27, 2013

The non-cricket fan's guide to Australia's Ashes squad

Just returned from a trip into deep space and clueless about the players from down under? Not to worry, help is at hand

The internet has made our lives richer in so many ways. For instance, in the old days, if you wanted an argument, you often had to go outside. Now, thanks to the miracle of the worldwide instantaneous insult exchange, you can engage multiple conversational antagonists without having to abandon the safety of your duvet. One moment, you can be debating the existence of God with an angry goat herder from Uzbekistan; the next appending a smiley face-palm to an intercontinental spat over Justin Bieber's hat.

Sadly, whenever human civilisation moves on, there are casualties. Simple wholesome pastimes can become obsolete overnight. Towards the end of the 18th century, townsfolk who had for years enjoyed pelting convicted miscreants in the face with rotten produce, found that all the fun went out of their Saturday afternoons with the invention of the Steam Powered High Velocity Squishy Vegetable Dispenser.

And some of our most cherished cricket pleasures have also lost their charm. In the days when we thought cyberspace was what Cybermen needed when their cyber marriages were in trouble, our only glimpses of life on the other planets in the cricket universe was when visitors from these strange worlds spent the summer touring our country. The unveiling of the touring squad in a newspaper was therefore a special treat.

It would be several weeks before you saw these men in the flesh. In many cases, a player's name was all you had to go on, so from this you had to construct a plausible cricketer in your imagination. Sometimes it worked. I can remember the first time I saw Carl Rackemann. I knew it was Carl Rackemann, because he perfectly matched the Carl Rackemann I had created in my head. Napoleon Einstein, on the other hand, would have been a bit of a disappointment.

For those of you under 30, the effect of this is hard to recreate. You can try by asking a non-cricket person to describe who they see when they read the name Ryan Sidebottom. My daughter's imaginary Ryan was surprisingly accurate, aside from an unfortunate, although with hindsight rather predictable, anatomical mutation.

For cricket folk, the internet has taken all the mystery from the squad-unveiling. Not only do we know what Matthew Wade looks like, we know his inside leg measurement, his favourite colour and the names of his pet gerbils. But ahead of the Ashes, lazy non-cricket folk will still ask us questions like, "Are Australia any good these days?" or "Which one's Jackson Bird?" or "Is that nice Steve Warne still playing?"

So for their benefit, I have prepared a handy guide to some of the new and recycled faces in Australia's touring collective:

Chris Rogers Batsman who brings valuable experience of being in his mid-thirties; experience the team has lacked since Simon Katich was dropped for being in his mid-thirties.

Phil Hughes If there is a weak link in this Australian squad, Phil Hughes is not it. Having struggled against the short ball, he showed another side to his game in India, by struggling against the spinning ball. If you can't spot him, Phil will be the one not getting out of the way in time.

Ed Cowan Edward "Oooh Bad Luck" Cowan is the team's misfortune specialist, and is hoping to be the first man to be dismissed at Lord's by being caught on the deep midwicket boundary after the ball has bounced off a mole, struck a pigeon, and ricocheted from a meteorite.

Usman Khawaja Able to lose his wicket at any position from three to six, Usman is also the team scapegoat and has already copied an article of his own composition lamenting the way he has failed to fulfil his talent to every major Australian media outlet.

Mitchell Slipped Disc, Ryan Hamstring, Peter Sidestrain, James Piles and Jackson Bunion Crack quintet of rotating fast bowlers, but don't worry if you've never heard of them because none of them will be fit at any stage.

Mitchell Johnson Coincidentally holidaying in Bognor Regis all summer and free at short notice.

Brad Haddin Much-needed replacement for Matthew Wade who is clearly out of his depth.

Matthew Wade Much-needed replacement for Brad Haddin who is clearly past it.

Steve Warne Almost certainly not available

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here